In the latest annual survey of 1,788 National Education Union members, conducted ahead of Annual Conference in Bournemouth:

  • 90% of teachers in English state schools tell us that pupils’ poor mental health has become more prevalent in their school, compared to before the pandemic. The same number report an increase in socialisation difficulties, and 72% a delay in speech and language development. 
  • More than half (52%) report that in the last two years they have received CPD to meet the mental health challenge in their school. One in three (33%) tell us this was within the last twelve months, whereas another third say they have never had any training in this area. 
  • There is a gulf between what a school wants to do for education recovery and what is possible through funding and other Government policy. 77% agree it is important to increase the number of teachers, but only 3% have seen this delivered at their school. 77% want curriculum flexibility, but only 14% have seen it in action.

The State of Education survey is an extensive look at the current mood of the profession, the challenges facing teachers, support staff and school and college leaders, and what they wish to see from Government. We are releasing the findings over the course of Annual Conference.

The challenge

In unprecedented times, and with the importance of education recovery at the forefront of their minds, the challenge facing the profession is an extraordinary one. When asked to compare with their experience before the pandemic, our respondents told us that difficulties for their pupils have increased.

Mental Health chart 1

The vast majority (90%) told us that poor mental health amongst their pupil intake had increased since before the pandemic, with more than half (53%) saying it had increased greatly. When broken down by phase, two-thirds (68%) of secondary teachers reported that poor mental health had increased greatly, compared with two in five primary and special school teachers. 

Half (49%) of primary and nursery school teachers reported that speech and language delay had increased greatly, whereas this was true for only one in seven (15%) of secondary teachers and a quarter (24%) of special school teachers. Overall, 32% of respondents said that it was acute.

Socialisation difficulties have also grown over the past two years, and this was broadly felt across phases. Three fifths of primary school teachers (59%) said it had increased greatly; half (47%) of secondary teachers agreed with this sentiment, as did 41% of special school teachers.

“There is a mental health crisis emerging among primary school children. There is almost no support from outside/government services and children are left unsupported and teachers have nowhere to turn.”

Set against this is the training challenge. It is clear that many schools have acted to increase staff’s ability to recognise and support the needs of young people with poor mental health.

Mental Health chart 2

52% of teachers in English state schools told us they have received training within the last two years, and a third (33%) within the last year. One third are yet to receive any. While many school leaders have clearly recognised the challenge, there is a concern amongst a significant number of members responding to our survey that the quality of training is not good enough.

“It wasn’t a very helpful training session and lots of staff left feeling confused and as though we still couldn’t support effectively.”

Approach versus Action

Given the prevalence of poor mental health in schools, and the increase in training, what is striking from our survey is the gap between what teachers think they need to do to meet the challenge and what is available at their school or in their local authority.  

Mental Health chart 3

In every category, demand outstrips supply. An overwhelming 89% valued the support of a local CAMHS and NHS mental health team, but only 15% had access to one. On-site support was similarly lacking, with 82% demand versus 21% supply. The only measure which has seen uptake in more than half of respondents’ schools was the focus on mental health and wellbeing in PSHE/RSHE lessons.

“Mental health needs to be a priority. There is no access to CAHMS unless a pupil has a serious eating disorder or threatening to take their life. There needs to be more funding and access to mental health services for primary aged children.”

Catch-up measures

Our survey shows what the experts on the ground believe is necessary to meet the catch-up needs of pupils, set against what their school has been able to deliver.

Mental Health chart 4

The top six choices are supported by a majority of teachers, but they are also amongst the least likely to have been delivered. Many of these aspirations are constrained either by school budgets - a pandemic coming on top of a real-terms funding crisis - or the inflexibility of Government.

Notably, the best-known government initiatives for catch-up have charted low, with school-led tuition programmes outstripping the popularity of the national service. The extending of school days or term-lengths, favoured in the Schools White Paper for 2022, commands the support of just 7% of those surveyed.

Commenting on the findings of the survey, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: 

“Schools, staff, parents and pupils are crying out for help as we face a mental health challenge on a scale our education system has never experienced. A decade of austerity and cuts to specialist support services, has left the system buckling under the strain.

“Nothing is normal in schools now. Pupils in every year group are finding it difficult to make the adjustment back to school life. Many are highly anxious, and some find it extremely difficult to re-enter school society. This is a challenge which teachers, support staff and leaders are up to, but government is not. Boris Johnson’s failure to properly fund education recovery, and to refuse to listen to the profession, betrays his lack of commitment to young people.”

Editor’s Note

The National Education Union State of Education survey was conducted online through membership and received 1,788 responses from English state-school teachers between 24 February – 8 March 2022. The relevant data tables are provided.

END

Note to editors

We are currently in Bournemouth for our Annual Conference (11-14 April), during which time you will receive a higher number of press releases than usual.   

The Conference Press Office can be reached on 07879 480 061. You can also email the press officer at caroline.cowie@neu.org.uk   

Our conference agenda is available her

The hashtag for Annual Conference is #NEU2022  

  • The National Education Union stands up for the future of education. It brings together the voices of more than 450,000 teachers, lecturers, support staff and leaders working in maintained and independent schools and colleges across the UK, to form the largest education union in Europe.   
  • It is an independent, registered trade union and professional association, representing its members in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.   

The National Education Union is affiliated to the Trades Union Congress (TUC), European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) and Education International (EI). It is not affiliated to any political party and seeks to work constructively with all the main political parties.